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A Team Unlike Any Other

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Eight-Time NCAA National Champions!

CLEVELAND -  In front of a hometown crowd in this afternoon's earlier session, things were going just about as well as they possibly could for Ohio State. Then came Penn State. Just as fearless as their leader, the Nittany Lions were unafraid, loose, relaxed and ready to seize a prime opportunity. 

With the uncertainty of the team race palpable in the Quicken Loans Arena air, it was Penn State junior Bo Nickal who brought a hush across the largest NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships crowd in history. It lasted only a few blinks though, as the Nittany Lion sent the record-setting crowd into pure pandemonium at the bat of an eyelid.

"I was nervous for a second, but he'd already adjusted so that's Bo Nickal for 'ya," Penn State head assistant coach Casey Cunningham said. 

It was less than a half hour prior that he and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson were matside as Nickal flew through the puffs of green tinted smoke and pyrotechnics to meet Ohio State's Myles Martin for the ninth time. A second consecutive NCAA Championship was obviously on the line, but so was something else - the team title. 

"I think the thing about the pressure is, you can let it be positive or negative and the thing is, I want the pressure because if there's anybody going out there with the team title on the line, I would just pick myself," Nickal said.

That's just the type of confidence that Sanderson and his staff have so seemingly perfected.

"I think our job as a staff is to believe in these guys and try to help them really to believe in themselves," Sanderson said. "An I'm not - as a coach, I'm not afraid to lose. That's what we talk to our team about, it's a very important aspect."

As Martin reached in to throw Nickal, the three-time All-American knew just what to do, rolling through before locking up the fall at the 2:29 mark. 

"I've done that move a lot, ever since I was probably about 12 or 13 so just, knowing that position so well, I knew kind of what was going to happen before it did and once I got him over on his back I knew it was going to happen and it did," Nickal said. "Once that happened, I was pretty excited and just kind of freaked out."

So did the Q.

Seconds after the sound of the referee slapping the mat, Nickal lifted Cunningham before jumping into the outstretched arms of Sanderson. Meanwhile, his teammates came streaming from the green tunnel led by fellow NCAA national finalist Mark Hall to greet him - the very Nittany Lion Penn State needed to perform with the team title on the line.

"Having these guys around me who support me and love me and want me to be the best, that gives me that confidence to go out there and know that I'm going to go out there and compete to the best of my ability and I just did it for my team," Nickal said clutching his 2018 NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Wrestler trophy with his championship hat on. 

Just like that Penn State punctuated an NCAA national finals performance awfully similar to the one it put on exactly 365 days prior.

Penn State is nine for 10 across the last two years with five finalists in back-to-back concluding sessions.

Top-seeded Zain Retherford opened up the finals for the Nittany Lions with a 6-2 win against Lock Haven's No. 15 seed Ronnie Perry.

The only thing different for Retherford though, is that Saturday's finals marked his last in Penn State singlet. Becoming just the second three-time NCAA Champion in program history, the nerves were just the same as they were the other two times.

So Retherford went for a walk, taking time outside in the brisk but sunny streets of Cleveland to clear his mind by the sights of Lake Erie.   

"I was feeling nervous all day so it's a good thing," Retherford said. "The first time I won a national championship was in New York City and I the night before I got maybe an hour or two of sleep, just excited about it. That was kind of what I felt today so I knew I was in a good place. Coach Cael just grabbed me aside before this just said be patient and you don't need to rush and score points, just take them as they come and keep getting your leads so that's kind of where my head was at emotionally." 

Coming off a knee injury that saw third-seeded Jason Nolf sidelined for the end of the season, he powered his way back to the finals, knocking off NC State's top-seeded Hayden Hidlay. 

Turning aside an early shot from the previously undefeated redshirt freshman, Nolf responded with a takedown for a 2-0 lead and didn't look back. 

"Right away he had me in a double leg and I got pretty nervous," Nolf said. "I don't know why he didn't finish it because I thought that I was about to get taken down but I fought out of it somehow, I got my back to center and I got to a couple leg attacks and just kept scoring from there."

Then came No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph in a highly anticipated matchup against Illinois' top-seeded Isaiah Martinez.

Joseph struck first, registering a takedown late in the first period before adding two back points for a 4-0 lead that he wouldn't relinquish.

"We kept both digging under hooks, stuff like that, kind of typical for how our matches go and I just felt it so I went for it," Joseph said.

Anticipating an aggressive match just like those in the past, this time, Joseph went in with something different. 

"I think we were both more offensive this match," Joseph said. "I tend to kind of hang out a lot and stuff whenever I wrestle but this match I made sure that I wanted to go out there with purpose, try to score points offensively and I felt pretty good."

Joseph brought the crowd to its feet with a yet another NCAA upset victory against Martinez for his second consecutive NCAA crown.

Perhaps different from last year's run though, was Hall, who came up short in a tough battle against Arizona State's top-seeded Zahid Valencia.

It's a loss like that, where it's Hall's coaches and teammates who are all feeling for the sophomore even amid the excitement of a seventh NCAA Championship team title in the last eight years. 

"I'm incredibly proud of Mark Hall," Sanderson said. "I think he wrestled a fantastic tournament, just had a tough match there in the finals against a very, very good wrestler. But Mark was on fire with a lot of bonus points and I'm bummed for him. It hurts." 

Even with the sting of loss in the finals, there's no doubting that Penn State has achieved something truly unique. 

"Penn State wrestling is on another level," Nickal said. "It's different. The program we have at Penn State, you don't really want to compare it because there's no comparison to any other program in the country. Any team that I've had in the past, this is easily the best team I've had and I'm just so grateful to be a part of it. It's unlike any other."

Looking Back at NCAA Session V

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CLEVELAND - Penn State saw both of its first time NCAA Championship Nittany Lions place Saturday afternoon, as No. 8 seed Nick Lee and No. 5 seed Shakur Rasheed both added to All-America honors with fifth and seventh place medals, respectively.

Penn State also closed out session five with a seventh-place finish from third-seeded Nick Nevills, adding on more crucial team points via the All-American.

Headed into tonight's NCAA Championship finals, the Nittany Lions have five competing for individual titles, with Penn State trailing Ohio State by just six points in the team standings. 

NCAA Championships Team Standings after Session V (Finals Participants)
1. - Ohio State - 130.5 (2)
2. - Penn State - 124.5 (5)
3. - Iowa - 93 (1)
4. - Michigan - 80 (2)
5. - NC State - 76 (2)

For both Lee and Rasheed though, there's plenty to be pleased with in their first experience at the NCAA Championships, both taking different paths to their podium positions.

As a high school senior, Lee was at last year's NCAA Championships in St. Louis, watching as his future teammates celebrated their sixth NCAA title in the last seven years. 

"I was just thinking that I can't wait to be on the team," Lee said. "I've been thinking about that a long time. It's a great group of guys and I wouldn't give it up for anything." 

Joining the lineup at 141 pounds, he made his Penn State dual debut against Michigan, Lee entered his first NCAA Championships with a 26-5 record as a true freshman, having posted a 4-1 mark in his first Big Ten Championships. 

Met with adversity in his first NCAA Championships event, it wasn't exactly the start the Nittany Lion had in mind. 

"That was a position he was good in and he got me in it and I got pinned there," Lee said when asked about his first round pin. "Not really something to dwell on, we'll look at that position, make sure I'm better there in the future. Just got to come back, keep wrestling and do the same thing over and over again."

Like his NCAA Championships roommate Zain Retherford says though, you have to have a short memory in a tournament like this. Instead of bowing out, Lee opted to buck up. 

"My team was with me the whole time," Lee said. "It was great, a lot of fun. The most I could ask for is more matches." 

That would be six more matches for Lee before he bounced back from a loss to Missouri's  No. 2 seed Jaydin Eierman with a thrilling 9-7 sudden victory win against NC State's fifth-seeded Kevin Jack to secure the fifth place finish.

All smiles after finishing above his assigned No. 8 seed, it's not the seed that really matters.

"The seeds don't really mean that much to me anyways because you're going to wrestle all of them anyway," Lee said. "It was amazing for me. It's the most fun I've had I think in my whole life."

Summing up the most fun he has ever had in his life though, can't be done in just a word.

"I think just because I love it," Lee said. "This is what I live for, this is what I wrestle for, this is what I came to Penn State for, to wrestle matches. After my first loss, it's just an opportunity for me to wrestle more and I couldn't ask for anything else."

For Rasheed, his first loss came in a bitter finish to the third period, as he fell to NC State's fourth-seeded Michael Macchiavello in the quarterfinals.

"After I lost a tough one in the quarterfinals, I was pretty beat up, I was pretty tough on myself," Rasheed said. "I was really mad about just a last second thing. I had that match and the kid's tough but I realized that I'm grateful to have a team like Penn State, that even though I lost and my goal of being a national champion in 2018 isn't going to be true, we can still win this thing as a team." 

Making the most of his final match, Rasheed came out on a roll, recording a pair of early takedowns against Missouri's sixth-ranked Willie Miklus before finishing off a pivotal 11-3 major decision with 2:56 in riding time.

"I knew scoring bonus was crucial so I was kind of like let's go out there and get bonus and that's what I did," Rasheed said. "I said I'm going to capitalize on my best position and that's top. Once I got on top, I was making sure I was working on turns and getting right through it." 

Even though his expectations were higher coming in, having the opportunity to score points for his teammates is something he'll take moving forward.

"I got the opportunity to score points for our team and when we win this team title, I could finally say I was a part of that. I could really say that I scored points for this team," Rasheed said. 

Up Next in Session VI
149: #1 seed Zain Retherford, Sr. - Finals
vs. #15 Ronnie Perry, Lock Haven

157: #3 seed Jason Nolf, Jr. - Finals
vs. #1 Hayden Hidlay, North Carolina State

165: #3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, So. - Finals
vs. #1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois

174: #2 seed Mark Hall, So. - S Finals
vs. #1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State

184: #1 seed Bo Nickal, Jr. - Finals
vs. #2 Myles Martin, Ohio State

Looking Back at NCAA Session IV

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CLEVELAND - There's Penn State wrestling and bonus points and then there's Penn State wrestling and poise under pressure. 

Questions about the team race were often among the first asked to each advancing Nittany Lion, as media members peppered in small corner huddles in the underbelly of the Q. With only the slightest of variation, Penn State answered those questions the same way each time. 

"I think when you start thinking about the score too much or things that are outside of your control, you start competing worse," top-seeded Zain Retherford said. "We're just focused on what we can do for the team. Each guy, the best that they can do for the team at the moment is what they can do out on the mat for seven minutes. So that's what we're focused on, not really what's going on around us." 

It's that exact mindset that sent the Nittany Lions rolling past Ohio State in the team standings, shrinking a 13.5 point deficit ahead of Friday night's semifinals that saw Penn State emerge with an 11-point lead at the end of session four. 

NCAA Championships Team Standings after Session IV (Finals Participants)
1. - Penn State - 120.5 (5)
2. - Ohio State - 109.5 (2)
3. - Iowa - 86.5 (1)
4. - Michigan - 73.5 (2)
5. - NC State - 68.5 (2) 

All five semifinalists did just what they needed to do, earning their spots in Saturday's NCAA national finals in what could be a repeat of last year's thrilling finale.

Meeting fourth-seeded Troy Heilmann from North Carolina, Retherford took just a moment pre-match to soak it all in before recording a 10-4 win to advance to the finals.

"I think before that match I was kind of pacing out there in the center," Retherford said. "I was just thinking, this is my second-to-last folk style match I'll ever get to wrestle in a Penn State singlet."

Third-seeded Jason Nolf then followed with a dominant 16-0 tech fall at the 4:28 mark against Ohio State's No. 7 seed Micah Jordan. Much like Nolf though, there's no reason exhale just yet.

"This is where we want to peak, it's the most important tournament of the year so just feeling good and ready to go," Nolf said. "It doesn't really feel like anything yet. You have to win in the finals."

After No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph knocked off Virginia Tech's No. 2 seed David McFadden, the Nittany Lion of course knew it meant another meeting with Illinois' top-seeded Isaiah Martinez in the finals.

"Whenever me and Isaiah wrestle, it's usually pretty exciting match, pretty offensive," Joseph said. "We're both looking forward to it. We know it's going to be a good one, and we're just ready to put on a show."

Penn State wasn't finished, closing out its semifinal showdown with a pair of exciting wins from No. 2 seed Mark Hall and top-seeded Bo Nickal.

Meeting Missouri's third-seeded Daniel Lewis, Hall found himself in an unfamiliar position he doesn't typically get into in the room, after Lewis went in on single leg.

"I'll be honest, I thought he was going to break my leg that first shot," Hall said. "He had a very tight hold on my ankle, and that's how you're supposed to do it. He did everything right. I'm not saying he's a dirty wrestler, he's not." 

Throwing his leg over the top to relieve the pressure, Lewis missed, but Hall knew just what he had to do to close it out.

"It's funny before the match, coach Casey, we were talking and he was like, he's going to try and hit that single leg and put his leg over top." Hall said. "And I was like dang I can pin him from there, and it's just crazy that's how it happened, but it's something I had in the back of my head and I was ready to do."

Perhaps more unlikely than what Nittany Lion fans are used to seeing from Nickal, he defeated Michigan's No. 5 seed Domenic Abounader in a surgical 6-3 victory with 1:41 in riding time. Regardless of the final score, simply having his arm raised at the end of the match was of course, most important. 

"I think that the second match I wrestled -  I wouldn't say tentatively, because I was pretty aggressive, but just more methodical than I normally do," Nickal said. "I got a couple takedowns and was looking for my openings, and he kind of just stayed solid." 

For Nickal, the methodical approach was good experience, but not something he anticipates happening again. 

"Just to be able to control the tempo and stuff, but it's not really as fun or exciting for me so I don't think we'll be seeing too much of that anymore," Nickal said.

The Nittany Lions have eight All-Americans set for Saturday action with eighth-seeded Nick Lee opening the day in the consolation semis and No. 5 Shakur Rasheed and No. 3 Nick Nevills both wrestling for seventh.

Session five begins at 11 a.m. inside Quicken Loans Arena before the NCAA Championship finals kick off a 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Up Next in Session V

141: #8 seed Nick Lee, Fr. - Consolation Semi.
vs. #2Jaydin Eierman, Missouri

149: #1 seed Zain Retherford, Sr. - Finals
vs. #15 Ronnie Perry, Lock Haven

157: #3 seed Jason Nolf, Jr. - Finals
vs. #1 Hayden Hidlay, North Carolina State

165: #3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, So. - Finals
vs. #1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois

174: #2 seed Mark Hall, So. - S Finals
vs. #1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State

184: #1 seed Bo Nickal, Jr. - Finals
vs. #2 Myles Martin, Ohio State 

197: #5 seed Shakur Rasheed, Jr. - Seventh Place
vs. #Willie Miklus, Missouri

285: #3 seed Nick Nevills, Jr. - Seventh Place
vs. #12 Youssif Hemida, Maryland

Looking Back at NCAA Session III

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CLEVELAND - Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson noted last night that today's opening session would prove critical in the team standings. Headed into the evening, the Nittany Lions are still in the thick of the NCAA Championships team race, with five advancing to tonight's semifinal round.

Penn State will also have three additional Nittany Lions in consolations, with eight of an original nine qualifiers still in action headed into session four action, which begins at 8 p.m. on ESPN. 

NCAA Championships Team Standings after Session III (Semifinals Participants)
1. - Ohio State - 80.5 (6)
2. - Penn State - 67 (5)
3. - Michigan - 59.5 (5)
4. - Iowa - 53.5 (2)
5. - NC State - 43 (3)

Top-seeded Zain Retherford was the first Nittany Lion to earn a spot in the NCAA semifinals, powering past Oklahoma State's No. 8 seed Boo Lewallen. Picking up a quick take down, Retherford surged to a 20-2 tech fall at the 5-minute mark. 

With two tech falls and a pin across two days, Retherford is only growing more comfortable with each passing session, now Penn State's 10th four-time All-American. 

"The bow and arrow last night was the first time I hit it in a while and I hit it a few times that match so it's awesome finally getting some top offense going, definitely a confidence builder," Retherford said.

Third-seeded Jason Nolf followed Retherford into the semifinals for his third consecutive All-America honor, defeating Iowa's sixth-seeded Michael Kemerer in a 6-2 decision.

Among a tight race in the team standings, Retherford noted the mood was actually just the opposite of tense headed into the important day.

"I know coach Cael was keeping it pretty light this morning," Retherford said. "I know our coaches were trying to make us laugh a little bit so it's good, especially when you walk around here and you see a lot of faces that are staring at you, so it's good to smile at these tournaments. Even though we want to win, this is fun, this is the NCAA Championships."

Penn State's No. 3 seed Vincenzo Joseph also has reason to smile, defeating Nebraska's No. 11 seed Isaiah White in sudden victory. It was a matchup he didn't think would happen this year against an opponent he knows all too well.

"I wrestled him twice in high school actually and he beat me both times," Joseph said. "I was kind of really looking forward to that match. I didn't really think it was going to happen this year but it did and I'm grateful for that. It's not like a vendetta type of thing, I'm just trying to see where I've grown as a wrestler because in high school he whooped my butt at Fargo and then he beat me at Ironman, it was an overtime match but it wasn't really that close I was just backing up the whole time." 

With the score tied at 1-1, both Joseph and White exchanged escapes in the tie-breaker. As quickly as the sudden victory period began, a Joseph takedown ended it, as he earns his second consecutive All-America honor. 

"I knew he was going to keep shooting," Joseph said. "He felt like he could get me on that but I knew he wouldn't so just letting him shoot, getting to my re-attacks and I knew I would score eventually."

No. 2 seed Mark Hall and top-seeded Bo Nickal also followed with a pair of decisions to earn All-America honors and move on to the semifinals.

Wrapping up consolation action for the Nittany Lions was eighth-seeded freshman Nick lee, who posted a 5-0 decision against Central Michigan's No. 10 seed Mason Smith before a 13-5 major decision against Indiana's No. 16 Cole Weaver. 

"I feel good, doing it for myself, my teammates and my coaches," Lee said.

Earning some key bonus points for his team for the first time in NCAA Championships action, it was all business as usual for the Nittany Lion.

"That's what we want to do, open up offense, that's what we came here for and it's more fun too," Lee said. 

Penn State gets underway in yet another critical session later this evening in Quicken Loans Arena.

Up Next in Session IV
141: #8 seed Nick Lee, Fr. - Round 12
vs. #12 Tyler Smith, Bucknell 

149: #1 seed Zain Retherford, Sr. - Semifinals
vs. #4 Troy Heilmann, North Carolina

157: #3 seed Jason Nolf, Jr. - Semifinals
vs. #7 Micah Jordan, Ohio State

165: #3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, So. - Semifinals
vs. #2 David McFadden, Virginia Tech

174: #2 seed Mark Hall, So. - Semifinals
vs. #3 Daniel Lewis, Missouri 

184: #1 seed Bo Nickal, Jr. - Semifinals
vs. #5 Domenic Abounader, Michigan 

197: #5 seed Shakur Rasheed, Jr. - Round 12
vs. #7 Frank Mattiace, Penn 

285: #3 seed Nick Nevills, Jr. - Round 12
vs. Jere Heino, Campbell 

Looking Back at NCAA Session II

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CLEVELAND - Penn State wrestling carried its session one momentum right into the evening session, closing out day one with a 9-0 finish. With seven Nittany Lions headed for the quarterfinals, all nine qualifiers are still in action headed toward day two.

Penn State's most consistent contributors continued to deliver, with top-seeded Zain Retherford opening session two pinning Maryland's No. 16 Alfred Bannister at the 2:29 mark.

"I think I wrestled well," Retherford said. "I think I've been working some stuff on top, so I was finally able to get my bow and arrow, I haven't been able to do that in a while so that was fun."

Retherford's pin marked the 53rd of his career to tie the Penn State all-time record, following a round one tech fall. Although it was the pin he wanted in the opening round, for Retherford, in the NCAA Championships it's all about having a short term memory.

"No matter how close the match is or anything like that, just keep rolling one match at a time," Retherford said.

Retherford's 2-0 day didn't come without a few nerves, but the two-time NCAA national champion says nerves are a good thing.

"Nerves is good, it's not a bad thing," Retherford said. "It feels awesome, there's not too many things that I get to do where I kind of feel those nerves. I know that this is a special thing and just making the most out of this opportunity."

NCAA Championships Team Standings after Session I (Quarterfinal Participants)
1. - Ohio State - 36 (9)
2. - Penn State - 28.5 (7)
3. - Iowa - 27 (3)
4. - Michigan - 22.5 (5)
5. - Missouri - 19 (4)

At 174, second-seeded Mark Hall followed an earlier 12-2 major decision with a 21-3 tech fall at the 6:54 mark. Meeting Purdue's Dylan Lydy, Hall shot out to an early first period advantage, widening his advantage turning Lydy twice in the final frame. 

"It started quick, I got him right to his back," Hall said. "I wanted to pin him there, I had two times where I had him pretty deep on his back and I have to finish the job but all in all, I've been wrestling really well, getting to my attacks." 

No. 5 seed Shakur Rasheed rounded out Penn State's bonus point performances, registering a 14-3 major decision with 3:36 in riding time against UNC's Daniel Chaid.

"Second match, I just kind of had the mindset like I'm going to get it," Rasheed said. "It doesn't matter. I think I showed it out there, I didn't have the best shots, the cleanest shots, but I got it done."

Third-seeded Nick Nevills closed out Penn State's second round matchups defeating NC State's No. 14 Michael Boykin, 5-4 in sudden victory by way of :16 of riding time. Although not exactly pleased with his performance, it was moving on for a chance to compete for his team that was on his mind.

"That was one of the biggest things on my mind besides what was going on in the match because we needed team points and we needed to win and I was just trying to deliver," Nevills said. 

Nittany Lions Nick Lee and Corey Keener then came through for the Nittany Lions in the consolation rounds with a pair of decisions. 

After a tough start in the first round, Retherford didn't have to say anything to his NCAA Championships roommate in between sessions.

"I'm roommates with Nick Lee on this trip, he's a good kid," Retherford said. "I haven't really said too much to him, I think he knows what to do. If he seemed like he wasn't in a good place or something, maybe I would say something, but I have all the confidence in him and Corey as well." 

For Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, both Lee and Keener are key in keeping the Nittany Lions in the hunt for the team title. 

"Yeah we had to stay alive there and who knows tomorrow, we can just keep rolling and get bonus points and get back up on that All-American stand," Sanderson said. "You can't do that if you're out."

Ask any Nittany Lion though and there's no doubting the importance of wrestling well for a full day Friday.

"Tomorrow's the big day, tomorrow's the big point day so these bonus points are really huge in these early rounds but we've got to wrestle," Sanderson said. "Everyone has great matches -we're having fun. We're just competing hard and it's a great team race here but we just want our guys to go out there and be themselves and wrestle hard."

Session three kicks off tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Quicken Loans Arena.

Up Next in Session III

133: Corey Keener, Sr. - Consolation 2
vs. Rico Montoya, Northern Colorado 

141: #8 seed Nick Lee, Fr. - Consolation 2
vs. #10 Mason Smith, Central Michigan

149: #1 seed Zain Retherford, Sr. - Quarterfinals
vs. #8 Boo Lewallen, Oklahoma State

157: #3 seed Jason Nolf, Jr. - Quarterfinals
vs. #6 Michael Kemerer, Iowa

165: #3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, So. - Quarterfinals
vs. #11 Isaiah White, Nebraska

174: #2 seed Mark Hall, So. - Quarterfinals
vs. #7 Taylor Lujan, Northern Iowa

184: #1 seed Bo Nickal, Jr. - Quarterfinals
vs. #9 Max Dean, Cornell

197: #5 seed Shakur Rasheed, Jr. - Quarterfinals
vs. #4 Michael Macchiavello, NC State

285: #3 seed Nick Nevills, Jr. - Quarterfinals
vs. #6 Amar Dhesi, Oregon State

Looking Back at NCAA Session I

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CLEVELAND - Amid an interesting opening session for top-ranked Penn State, when it comes to the team score, there's certainly more to the story than what's listed in the team standings. Met with unusual early adversity, Penn State regrouped from a pair of early losses and rallied with seven bonus point victories to begin the NCAA national championships.

Just a little more than 24 hours ago it was senior Zain Retherford who said his focus isn't on anything else other than scoring points and enjoying the moment. The Nittany Lions needed just that from the top-seeded Nittany Lion, who sparked a bonus point streak putting Penn State on the board.

Retherford built up a 5-1 lead headed into the third period before dialing up the offense to finish with a 16-1 tech fall against Eastern Michigan's Kyle Springer. Retherford's win sets up a meeting with Maryland's Alfred Bannister, who he pinned earlier this year in just 1:21 during a streak of six consecutive pins for the Nittany Lion.

NCAA Championships Team Standings after Session I (Round Two Participants)
1. - Iowa - 18.5 (8)
2. - Ohio State - 17.0 (10)
3. - Penn State - 16.0 (7)
4. - Michigan - 13.0 (7)
5. - NC State - 12.0 (8) 

At 157 pounds, a healthy Jason Nolf came out firing in the NCAA first round with a 22-7 tech fall, controlling Central Michigan's Colin Heffernan from start to finish. Third-seeded Nolf will now meet Wisconsin's Andrew Crone in tonight's second session.

Vincenzo Joseph continued the momentum, recording a 15-4 major decision with 3:21 in riding time before Mark Hall added a 12-2 major decision with 3:38 in riding time.

Hall, the No. 2 seed at 174 pounds, led 7-0 at the end of two periods before using a strong third period to power his way into the second round. His matchup includes a meeting with Purdue's Dylan Lydy, who he majored, 11-3, with 1:45 in riding time in a mid-January outing at Rec Hall.

At 184 pounds, Bo Nickal only added to the momentum with yet another major decision, taking care of South Dakota State's Martin Mueller, 16-4.

One of two Nittany Lions making his NCAA Championships debut, Penn State's Shakur Rasheed battled the Citadel's Sawyer Root to a 4-4 tie headed into the final period. Rasheed responded with a reversal before nearly pinning Root, earning four back points from the cradle to pull ahead for good. Rasheed will meet UNC'S Daniel Chaid in the second round after registering a 13-5 major with 2:15 in riding time in his first NCAA Championships victory. 

Penn State punctuated its opening session with a Nick Nevills pin, giving the Nittany Lions a promising boost in the team standings. Nevills went up 8-0 before pinning Kent State's Stephen Suglio.

The Nittany Lions are back at it in session two starting at 7 p.m. in Quicken Loans Arena.

Up Next

133: Corey Keener, Sr. - Consolation 1
vs. Cam Sykora, North Dakota State

141: #8 seed Nick Lee, Fr. - Consolation 1
vs. No. 9 Josh Alber, Northern Iowa

149: #1 seed Zain Retherford, Sr. - Second Round
vs. No. 16 Alfred Bannister, Maryland 

157: #3 seed Jason Nolf, Jr. - Second Round
vs. No. 14 Andrew Crone, Wisconsin 

165: #3 seed Vincenzo Joseph, So. - Second Round
vs. No. 14 Branson Ashworth, Wyoming

174: #2 seed Mark Hall, So. - Second Round
vs. No. 15 Dyland Lydy, Purdue

184: #1 seed Bo Nickal, Jr. - Second Round
vs. No. 16 Jordan Ellingwood, Central Michigan

197: #5 seed Shakur Rasheed, Jr. - Second Round
vs. Daniel Chaid, North Carolina

285: #3 seed Nick Nevills, Jr. - Second Round
vs. No. 14 Michael Boykin, NC State

Four Takeaways from NCAA Presser Day

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CLEVELAND - Less than 24 hours separates Penn State wrestling from taking to the mat to begin its quest for a seventh NCAA national championship in the last eight years. Ask any of the Nittany Lions though, and it's what they've been training for all year long, as noon tomorrow kicks off the first session of action at Quicken Loans Arena. 

Prior to opening competition, Penn State senior Zain Retherford and Nittany Lion head coach Cael Sanderson joined a panel of selected head coaches and student-athletes for a question and answer session.

Check in on the top four takeaways from the pair of press conferences.

The Last One
Come Thursday, Retherford will begin his quest to do something only one other Nittany Lion has done in program history, win a third NCAA individual national championship title. While the postseason is often a time for student-athletes to look back on progress and accomplishment's, that's not something Retherford will spend his time dwelling on. 

"When it's over it's going to be over and it's going to come Saturday night," Retherford said. "It's like inevitable, it's going to be here, our season is going to be over. But until then I'm kind of just focused on scoring as many points as I can and just enjoying this moment, each moment as it comes. It's an opportunity and it's what we train for all year long, so it will be fun."

A Simple Formula
When it comes to winning an NCAA Championship title, the formula for Sanderson is quite simple - beat everyone and score more points than anyone else.

"Regardless of what it took or why we're here, injuries or no injuries, this isn't who is the healthiest nationals, this is the national wrestling championship," Sanderson said. "If you want to win you've got to go score the most points." 

A Learning Experience
Earlier this week, when asked about where he's grown the most since he arrived at Penn State, Retherford noted that when he first arrived, his focus was more on winning and losing. Through his career though, Retherford has focused more on gratitude, being thankful for his teammates, while also looking closer at how he can improve his own skillset.

Rewind to this past summer, where he earned a spot on the U.S. Senior World Team, sending him to Paris, France to compete in the 2017 UWW Senior World Championships. Upon returning from a performance he noted he wasn't happy with, he still took plenty from the experience.

"Just one thing, I was pretty hard on myself for a little while after that for a few weeks," Retherford said. "And I think I just realized win or lose, not putting too much emphasis on the result, putting more emphasis on how much better is my wrestling actually getting is one thing that I focused on. After that, win or lose, that's kind of the end goal. It's never really, yeah, we want to win stuff, but are you having fun with it? Are you actually getting better? Are you adding more offense? And that's kind of what I focused on this season."

Welcome to Ohio
For the first time since 1998, the state of Ohio is host to the NCAA wrestling championships. Each coach was asked about what comes to mind in terms of the state producing top wrestling talent. For Sanderson, it's personal connections as well as a name Nittany Lion fans will surely know right away. 

"Everyone's talking, I'm thinking about my coach, Bobby Douglas, he recruited a lot out of Ohio," Sanderson said. :My roommate, Joe Heskett, was from Ohio, four-time All-American, national champion, world medalist, one of the best friends. And Zach Thompson, Cleveland, Ohio, couple-time All-American. And we had a pretty solid kid from Ohio couple years ago in David Taylor."

NCAA Championships Next for Nittany Lions

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By Brandon Pelter, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a second place finish at the Big Ten Tournament, Penn State wrestling shifts its focus to the event the Nittany Lions have been training for the entire season, the NCAA Championships. 

Despite the Big Ten Championships finish, if there's anything the Nittany Lions can take from the experience, it's a clearer picture of what the ultimate goal is.

"I think any time you lose that should clarify a lot of things and kind of help you really focus in on what it is that you want," Sanderson said. "So hopefully that helps, I don't see it hurting us. Losing is never fun, but I think our guys are clear on what they want to do, they want to win the national championship." 

The quest for a seventh NCAA championship in the last eight years begins Thursday morning in Cleveland, as the nine qualifying Nittany Lions take on the nation's best.

For some, it's easy to get lost in the brackets and seedings, dreaming up different potential scenarios, but for Penn State, the focus is one match at a time.

"We just look at the path that our kids have and make sure they're ready for that path," Sanderson said. "But we're not too worried about the rest of the tournament and what's going on. It's just wasted energy. We just make sure our guys are ready for what's in front of them.

In his final season as a Nittany Lion, Zain Retherford has a unique chance to earn his third NCAA national championship, something only one Nittany Lion, Ed Ruth, has done before.

"I think Zain will always be remembered as one of the great college wrestlers, certainly one of the best Penn State wrestlers for sure," Sanderson said. "He can only add to that this weekend, so he has the chance to go compete for another national championship, a third national title, which is pretty darn special."

Since recruiting Retherford in high school, Sanderson could tell there was something special about the soon-to-be Nittany Lion.

"He always had just that look in his eye that he was different, he was unique," Sanderson said. "He's just a competitor and he believes in himself. I think he has really high standards in all aspects of his life. Academically, he is on the Dean's List each semester and it's easy to let that slide a little bit when you're having the success that he's been having and as busy as he is."

As Sanderson and his staff continued on through the recruiting process, they knew Retherford was special, but it's of course never easy to predict what elite level of success Retherford has reached in his time at Penn State. 

"I just think he has always been unique, whether we thought he would be this good or not we were hopeful," Sanderson said. "But to say that a kid would be competing with the potential of winning a third national title as a senior and a four-time All-American and everything else that he has accomplished, that's tough to predict right there."

For Retherford, this weekend isn't about looking back on personal accolades, rather all about doing whatever it takes to take home the team title.

"I think our focus is on how each individual can give their best performance for the team," Retherford said. "That's what I'm thinking about, what can I be doing to give the team the best shot, and that's wrestling the best that I can and scoring points. If I make mistakes that's a good thing I just have to come back from those. Last year I got taken down in the finals, but just the whole time I'm thinking keep scoring points until the last second."

Penn State will be boosted by another returning NCAA national champion in junior Jason Nolf, who took to the mat at the Big Ten Championships for the first time since late January.

After notching a win by fall and major decision, Nolf medically forfeited out of the tournament, but Sanderson is confident the two-time All-American is ready for the NCAA Championships.

"I think we saw the longer he wrestled the more confident he got," Sanderson said. "I thought his speed was great and his shots looked really good and that's what we want him to discover."

Outside of two of five returning NCAA Champions, it will take a complete group effort to win the team title this year.

Among the group of Nittany Lions making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Penn State will rely on Shakur Rasheed at 197 pounds. After finishing second at the Big Ten Championships, Rasheed wasn't exactly pleased with his performance, but has since looked to make a simple adjustment.

"I was very tense and I kind of fell into all the stuff that people were saying like 'I'm the bonus point guy' and things like that," Rasheed said. "I focused on that too much and I realized I need to have fun. I took the tournament way too seriously and then I realized just have fun so I kind of relaxed Sunday because I was thinking just go out there, dance around and have fun and that helped out a lot." 

Keeping what most would consider a pressure situation light, is signature to how the Nittany Lions approach not only the postseason, but every match.

I remember my true freshman year I was nervous before my first match and Ed Ruth just told me a joke before I got out on the mat and it calmed me down a lot," Retherford said. "I think jokes are always good and keeping it light this time of year is a good thing."

Session one of six in the three-day NCAA Championships kicks off Thursday, March 15 at noon in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

Family Weekend
Penn State's Nick Nevills joins his younger brother AJ Nevills (Fresno State) in the heavy weight field. Nick, who earned a No. 3 seed is no stranger to having one of his brother's competing at the NCAA Championships.

"It's cool that he's there, I remember last year I was standing in the tunnel before my oldest brother got to go out and wrestle and now I'll probably get to do the same thing with AJ," Nick said. "It's just cool, my parents are really happy for him, I know he's excited and happy for the opportunity to go out and wrestle and I'm wishing him all the best."

Trio Highlights Big Ten Championships Finals

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Session I Highlights I Session II Highlights

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Penn State wrestling highlighted a productive 2018 Big Ten Championships with three individual champions and a total of nine NCAA qualifiers.

Although the Nittany Lions fell short to Ohio State in the team race, there's still plenty of time for adjustments to be made with a little less than two weeks until the NCAA Championships in Cleveland, Ohio.

"I think the guys wrestled well," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. "These are matches they've got to win if they want to be national champions in a week and a half. We just have to make a few adjustments. I think Ohio State just wrestled really well. They won the tournament."

Senior Zain Retherford earned Penn State's first individual crown, once again defeating Iowa's Brandon Sorensen in a close 2-0 decision helped out by 1:36 seconds of riding time.

"Zain got us started in the finals," Sanderson said. "Nick Lee won the match before and he got bonus points too. Sorensen is a tough kid. They have wrestled a lot. It was a low scoring match But Zain did what he needed to do out there and I'm happy for him."

With the score locked at 0-0 at the end of the first period, Sorensen chose down to start the second, something Retherford remembered from his earlier regular season meeting against the Hawkeye. 

"He's hard to hold down," Retherford said. "I'm usually looking to turn there and he's countering a lot of things, doing a lot of little things. He's good on bottom." 

Retherford opted to select bottom to start the third period, where his escape secured his third Big Ten Championship. The win also marked the 89th consecutive victory for Retherford, who broke a record held by a former Nittany Lion already in the building, Maryland's head coach Kerry McCoy.

Sophomore Mark Hall's title bout was equally as close, as the Nittany Lion earned his first Big Ten Championship.

"It feels pretty good, finally," Hall said with a wide smile. "It only took me two years."

Hall was trailing 2-1 with 1:45 left in the third period after Michigan's Myles Amine's reversal. He wouldn't be down for long as Hall escaped to lock up the score, 2-2, before capitalizing on a speedy take down to pull away for good.

"You could tell when he was looking to go score and when he wanted to go score, he went and scored," Sanderson said. "It's another one of those weights in the Big Ten where a lot of the top guys in the country are here so I thought Mark's wrestling really well."

For Hall, it all came down to staying focused long enough to finish.

"He's a little funkier, but I'm funky myself so just keep putting him in positions where I can get him uncomfortable," Hall said. "Finishing my shot was really important. Making him work for his. You don't see it but that takes energy. Making him work for his stuff, keeping my head on straight."

Nittany Lion fans would hardly get a moment to breath as junior Bo Nickal and Ohio State's Myles Martin were tied up, 2-2, until the halfway point of the second period. With more than a minute in riding time already secured, Nickal built up his advantage, earning a 7-4 win for his second title.

Although surrendering a take down to Martin, Nickal is ready to move on, closing out the Big Ten Championships at 3-0 win one pin.

"I was just a little disappointed in that last period," Nickal said. "Other than that I feel like I wrestled solid in the whole tournament. I guess I try to be hard on myself, be critical so that way I can improve. Overall I feel like I wrestled pretty well. I just have to go get on my offense a little more and that's what I'm going to be working on until nationals."

Earlier in the afternoon, Penn State saw its possible chances of capturing the team title boosted early, as senior transfer Corey Keener captured a dominant 11-3 major against Purdue's No. 21 Ben Thornton to punch his ticket to the NCAA Championships as Penn State's ninth qualifier.

"I thought Corey wrestled really well," Sanderson said. "This morning, that was a big match for us. It was one of those - and he got bonus points too, which was huge. If there was any chance we could come back we were going to need a bunch of bonus points. He got us rolling with that. I'm really happy more than anything, just that he wrestled really well because we wanted the last match of the Big Ten Tournament to go well going into the nationals."

Ask any Nittany Lion though, and while grateful for an opportunity to compete at the Big Ten Championships, it's back to work, with the focus now firmly on the season finale. The finale of course is the NCAA Championships, which kick of March 15th

Looking Back at Session II

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EAST LANSING, Mich. - Following a strong start in the opening session, Penn State wrestling didn't exactly close out the day according to plan.

To the average eye, considering five Big Ten finalists, the possibility of 10 NCAA Tournament qualifiers and the team title still within reach, things went seemingly well. 

That's not how the Nittany Lions roll though.

"I think the guys, we wrestled fine," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. "We had a couple of matches we'd like another chance at, but we have to come back strong tomorrow, we still have a chance. We have to wrestle well, but good effort overall." 

The next match mentality paced the Nittany Lions throughout the day, as Penn State closed out session two at the Breslin Center just behind Ohio State for second in the team standings.

Team Standings - Top Four
1. Ohio State - 137.5
2. Penn State - 124.0
3. Michigan - 100.0
4. Iowa - 78.0

Among five Big Ten finalists tomorrow, Penn State's Shakur Rasheed will make his first appearance, having registered a 10-2 major decision against Purdue's No. 24 Christian Brunner in the semifinals.

It didn't come easy though, as he recorded a come-from-behind 8-4 decision against Indiana's Jake Kleimola in the first round, in a performance that hardly lived up to his expectations. His teammate Bo Nickal though, was right by his side to pick him up.

"He knows that I was having a hard time with the way I performed my first match," Rasheed said. "We're known for having fun, being happy and I faded away from it a little bit the first match."

His coaches were there too.

"After the first match the coaches came up to me and said hey, short memory you know? Next match," Rasheed said.

Rasheed used a 11-8 decision against Northwestern's Zack Chakonis, before finding even more of a sense of comfort by the time the semifinals arrived. 

Headed to his first Big Ten Championship title match though, it of course means a lot to Rasheed, but there's still more work to do. 

"This is only that much," Rasheed said raising his thumb and index finger parallel in the air. "I have to finish it off, beat whoever I have in the final, I didn't watch the other match, and then nationals."

Second-seeded Rasheed is set to meet Ohio State's third-seeded Kollin Moore in the finals.

Penn State's Vincenzo Joseph will also advance to his first Big Ten final match. Having come up short in last year's Big Ten semifinals against top-ranked Isaiah Martinez, the two will meet for the first time since Joseph's stunning NCAA Championship title victory last year.

"I'm looking forward to it," Joseph said. "I'm sure he is too. We're both really tough guys, we both wrestle hard and it's going to be fun no matter what happens."

Joseph's path to the finals also didn't come easy, as Sanderson noted the 165 pound weight class in the Big Ten is tough.

"I think he's wrestling great, his shots are good, he's crisp," Sanderson said. "He had a tough match there in the semis against a tough kid. Then a quarterfinalist, a tough match there too. A big match tomorrow."

Calmly navigating a few potentially troubling situations throughout the day, Joseph noted for the most part he was in control. He capped off the day with a 5-4 decision against Michigan's No. 7 Logan Massa, locked up by a late third period escape.

When asked about his day though, his response was simple - okay.

"I could have been more offensive," Joseph said. "That's really it. Offense is the name of the game and I need to do more of it."

Rasheed and Joseph will join top-seeds Nickal, Mark Hall and Zain Retherford in the Sunday afternoon finals.

What's Next in Session III & IV (Big Ten Championships)
125: No. 14 Seed Carson Kuhn - Placer No. 2 

133: No. 6 Seed Corey Keener - Seventh-place match

141: No. 2 Seed Nick Lee - Consolation Semifinals

149: No. 1 Seed Zain Retherford - Finals vs. Iowa's No. 2 Brandon Sorensen

165: No. 3 Seed Vincenzo Joseph - Finals vs. Illinois' No. 1 Isaiah Martinez

174: No. 1 Seed Mark Hall - Finals vs. Michigan's No. 6 Myles Amine

184: No. 1 Seed Bo Nickal - Finals vs. Ohio State's No. 2 Myles Martin

197: No. 2 Seed Shakur Rasheed - Finals vs. Ohio State's No. 3 Kollin Moore 

285: No. 3 Seed Nick Nevills - Consolation Semifinals


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